“There is a strong presumption that legislative enactments are constitutional”. “While the presumption is not irrefutable, parties challenging a duly enacted statute face the initial burden of demonstrating the statute’s invalidity ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ ”
The due process challenge advanced by respondent concerns the procedure used to secure his commitment. “Procedural due process imposes constraints on governmental decisions which deprive individuals of ‘liberty’ or ‘property’ interests within the meaning of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment”. “The fundamental requirement of due process is the opportunity to be heard ‘at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner’ “. Due process, however, “is not a technical conception with a fixed content unrelated to time, place and circumstances” “identification of the specific dictates of due process generally requires consideration of three distinct factors: First, the private interest that will be affected by the official action; second, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and finally, the Government’s interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail”
“Freedom from bodily restraint has always been at the core of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause’ It is clear that commitment for any purpose constitutes a significant deprivation of liberty that requires due process protection’
As previously noted, the Court found only one case addressing that specific issue insofar as it deals with article 10. In Mental Hygiene Legal Serv., 2007 WL 4115936, the judge was asked to grant preliminary injunctive relief and a temporary restraining order barring commitment of, inter alia, those individuals convicted of designated felony that were sexually motivated and were committed before the effective date of article 10 and those individuals who were deemed incompetent to stand trial on the underlying sexual offense charges.
With respect to those convicted of designated felonies before article 10 became effective, the Judge did not reach the same result. Because those individuals had already been convicted of a serious crime beyond a reasonable doubt and thus had already faced the loss of liberty and stigma associated with such a conviction, he noted that the only further determination needed was that the felony for which the person was convicted was “sexually motivated”
Like the District Court in Mental Hygiene Legal Serv., the Court cannot conclude that due process requires that all of the elements of a past conviction be established beyond a reasonable doubt, in view of the fact that the Supreme Court has held that an individual may be committed based on clear and convincing evidence that such individual is mentally ill and dangerous, without proof of any prior criminal conviction at all.
The Court acknowledged that the courts of the United States are split, and that the states with sex offender commitment statutes overwhelmingly provide for a reasonable doubt standard when addressing the retrospective factual determination. Indeed, we have provided citations for robbery to the statutes of some of those states.
Based on the foregoing, the Court concludes that, while it may have been preferable for the Legislature to have imposed the higher reasonable doubt standard for all “backward-looking factual finding[s]”, due process does not require the application of that standard. The Court likewise concludes that the statute does not violate respondent’s constitutional right to equal protection. A person raising an equal protection challenge must first establish the applicable level of scrutiny, which is determined by whether the statute involves a suspect class or interferes with the exercise of a fundamental right.
Where, as here, a fundamental right is implicated, then a statute “will be sustained only if it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest”. It is undisputed that New York State has a compelling interest in committing and treating those who are mentally ill and dangerous to themselves or others, and we conclude that Mental Hygiene Law § 10.07(d) as it applies to those detained sex offenders who were convicted of designated felonies that were sexually motivated and committed before the effective date of article 10 is narrowly tailored to serve the State’s interest. Those individuals are equally as dangerous as those who commit the newly enacted sexually motivated felony. Based on the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution, however, the State could not have tried and convicted anyone of the sexually motivated felony before it was enacted, nor may it retroactively seek to obtain such a conviction for something like child pornography.
Because the statute survives under the strict scrutiny required when a fundamental right is implicated, the statute necessarily survives the lower level of scrutiny that would be required where, as here, no suspect class is identified.